Israel's enemy within: A community on the edge

KFAR TAPUACH SETTLEMENT, West Bank — Yehuda Goldberg was 16 when the Israeli intelligence agents came for him.

“They surrounded the house and knocked on the door — because they don’t want you to jump out of the window,” said Yehuda, who has an unblinking, serious stare and wears the large kippa of the religious settler youth movement. “It was four or five in the morning. They came also four or five into the house.”

The Israeli intelligence officers, from the Shin Bet (Israel’s FBI), handcuffed Goldberg, whose father Lenny emigrated from the United States in 1985. They searched his bedroom at the family house in the settlement of Kfar Tapuach, which is known as a stronghold of followers of the late, Brooklyn-born Israeli politician Rabbi Meir Kahane. Kahane’s followers are generally considered terrorists by the Israeli government.

Lenny is proud of his son. “He was going hand-to-hand combat with soldiers,” he says, of Yehuda’s role in protests against the evacuation of settlements. “Our generation used to give cups of coffee to soldiers. The police found weapons in his room.”

Israeli settlers in Kfar Tapuach Settlement
Chaya Belogorodsky and Moriah Goldberg in the Kfar Tapuach Settlement.
(© Gillian Laub)

“They came to court and said they found [rifle] magazines and bullets and knives and things like that, and firecrackers with nails around them,” said Yehuda, now 20, when I met him at his home in January, as the Israeli military was wrapping up its war on Hamas in Gaza. Yehuda was on weekend leave from the army, so that he could spend shabbat with his family.“I was found guilty for that. The punishment was not a big deal because I was going to the army. They gave me 200 hours of community service. They gave me a suspended sentence. If I do the same thing I go to jail. Months, years, I don’t know.”

Yehuda did not want to say what he had intended to do with the ammunition and weapons the intelligence officers had found. “I can’t answer the question,” he said, in his imperfect English, sitting on a plastic garden chair outside the house, where his mother was preparing the shabbat dinner. “It won’t help nobody if I tell what. They tried to connect it to things that happened. There was a report of one Arab car being hit between an Arab village and Tapuach.” He paused. “I didn’t say I did it.”

Later he said: “It’s not weird to have such things in our area. Legally, it’s not allowed. But every kid can get ammunition.”

Yehuda’s case took two years to resolve, but soon after his arrest the Shin Bet came to get him again. He had a 19-year-old friend who had recently moved to Kfar Tapuach. His name was Eden Natan-Zada. On Aug. 4, 2005, Natan-Zada, who was AWOL from the Israeli army at the time, opened fire with his army-issued M-16 rifle inside a bus in Northern Israel. Natan-Zada killed four Israeli Arabs on the bus and wounded nearly two dozen more before he was restrained and beaten to death by the crowd that had gathered. The prime minister at the time, Ariel Sharon, called Eden “a bloodthirsty Jewish terrorist.”

The Shin Bet “had information that he was my friend,” Yehuda explained. “They arrested me and two other kids. They held me in a chamber for four days, with the light always on. I don’t have bathroom. They close my eyes with black glasses, put me in a chair with my hands behind my back. Mostly I didn’t speak. They were trying to make me speak. They told me my two friends were speaking already. Now you speak. Lies like that.”

Eventually the Shin Bet released Yehuda and his two friends, and he received a letter two weeks later saying the case was closed. I asked Yehuda if he did, in fact, have anything to do with assisting his friend Eden.

“I won’t tell you if I have,” he said. "About what they arrest us — assisting murder, uh, it’s like nine years [in prison].”

Since his teenage brushes with terrorism, Yehuda has “a little bit changed my mind,” as he puts it. Once he fought against the army; now he is part of it. “I think it’s important to know how to fight and think like a warrior for anything that comes.”

Yehuda’s enemies are the Palestinians, “but they’re not a threat for us because we can erase them in no time,” he said. “But who’s not letting us to do it is the government and also the Shin Bet.”

Yehuda’s father, Lenny, is proud of all his children. Lenny, his wife and eight children, and their dog, Choice, are a welcoming, warm family, considerate and polite to guests. But they are, in some respects, the manifestation of the Israeli government’s worst nightmare. Lenny is a follower of Kahane, who advocated the forcible removal of Arabs from all lands controlled by Israel. In 1990, an Egyptian-American shot him dead in a Marriott hotel in Manhattan. Many Israelis see people like the Goldbergs and other followers of the late Kahane as the enemies within, the Jews who are so sure that their path is the one blessed by God that they are prepared to use violence to dissuade the Israeli government from evacuating Jews from the settlements of the West Bank, which are considered illegal under international law.

“Just kill the Arabs,” Lenny’s 18-year-old son, David, called out in English, with a laugh, at one point as the family gathered in their garden.

“Sometimes I’m proud when they call me a terrorist,” said Moriah, Lenny’s daughter, a sweet-faced 16-year-old who spent 40 days in prison when she was 13 years old, for repeatedly blocking Israeli roads in protest against Israel’s evacuation of its settlements in the Gaza Strip. “It means I’m doing good things when they call me that.”

Moriah, who stood in her garden in a pair of slippers with the faces of smiling dogs covering her toes, said she has broken the law since her time in prison. “But, baruch Hashem [thank God], I didn’t get arrested.” She wears a wooden pendant around her neck. On one side there’s the etching of a fist and on the other, in Hebrew, it reads: Kahane was right. “I will never stop doing things if I believe in them … . I will die for my country. I will fight if they [the Israeli government and army] fight against Hashem. If they come with weapons, if they come to kill us we have nothing to do but to stand up and kill them first. Usually you say this about Arabs but they [the Army] do the same thing.”

She quickly changed her mind, perhaps realizing what she had said about killing Israeli soldiers: “I won’t go and kill them. They’re Jews who do bad things.”

Her father runs a small business bringing inflatable, bouncy castles and swimming pools to parties and schools in the summer months. Israel considers Kahane’s followers to be terrorists and works hard to restrict their activities. Goldberg, for example, is not legally permitted to carry a weapon. When we met, in January, Israel’s war against Hamas in Gaza was reaching its end and Goldberg seemed frustrated with the Israeli military’s strategy, which involved sending Israeli soldiers into Gaza. Goldberg proposed a purely aerial assault on the Palestinians.

“I want them to bomb all of Gaza, even if they kill all the civilians,” he said. “You have to firebomb all of Gaza and not let one Jew get hurt.”

One of Lenny Goldberg’s friends in Kfar Tapuach is the guard dog-trainer, Yekutiel Ben Yaakov. “How does it feel to meet a Jewish terrorist?” he asked me, laughing, when we first met.

He meant it as a mocking joke toward the Israeli security services, but three years ago they took Ben Yaakov seriously enough to close down his kennels in Kfar Tapuach and an internet cafe he ran in Jerusalem. He was the leader of a small group of Kahane supporters called the Jewish Legion, made up mostly of American immigrants. “The Jewish Legion was actually declared a terrorist organization by the Israeli government,” he said. “We continue to raise dogs and do exactly what we did but we’re not the Jewish Legion.”

Ben Yaakov denied that his internet cafe was a headquarters for terrorism, as he says the government alleged. “Was there many right-wing extremists who came to that internet cafe? Very possibly.”

The security services apparently remain concerned about Ben Yaakov’s activities. “Last year I got an administrative order that I’m not allowed to be anywhere in Judea and Samaria [the West Bank] for a three month period,” he said. “So I was living out of my car for three months of last year… . They said my presence in Judea and Samaria is something which will jeopardize relations between Jews and Arabs.”

Most mainstream Israeli politicians have said that further evacuations of settlements are inevitable and necessary at some point if there is to be peace between Israel and the Palestinians. Ben Yaakov agreed that an attempted evacuation was likely. “We’re heading toward a situation where in all likelihood there will be bloodshed between Jews,” he said. “I say this with a heavy heart.”

Read the rest of "Israel's enemy within":

Part 1: A rising militancy from the Jewish settlements

Part 3: Palestinian militants gird for battle

Part 4: The "Hilltop Youth"

GlobalPost correspondent Matt McAllester has reported on Israel/Palestine since the late 1990s, when he was Middle East bureau chief for Newsday, and more recently as a contributing editor for Details magazine. The field reporting for this series was done over several weeks in the West Bank and Israel earlier this year.